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Researchers Reportedly Develop Universal Flu Vaccine

February 7, 2011

A team of British scientists claim that they have developed a new flu vaccine that could work against all currently identified strains of the ailment, according to a report in the UK newspaper The Guardian on Sunday.

The researchers, led by Dr. Sarah Gilbert of Oxford University, have discovered a new technique that targets a different part of the influenza virus than most traditional vaccines.

Rather than targeting the external coat of the virus, which is likely to mutate from year to year, the new vaccine targets internal proteins that are common across all strains of flu, according to Guardian Science Correspondent Alok Jha.

Jha, who calls it “a significant step in the fight against a disease that affects billions of people each year,” said that a widely-used universal flu vaccine “could prevent pandemics, such as the swine flu outbreaks of recent years, and end the need for a seasonal flu jab.”

“If we were using the same vaccine year in, year out, it would be more like vaccinating against other diseases like tetanus,” Gilbert told The Guardian. “It would become a routine vaccination that would be manufactured and used all the time at a steady level. We wouldn’t have these sudden demands or shortages–all that would stop.”

In a trial, Gilbert and her colleagues vaccinated 11 healthy volunteers with the newly developed vaccine, then infected each of them as well as 11 individuals who were not vaccinated, with a specific strain of the H3N2 influenza virus. They then monitored their symptoms twice per day and found that fewer of the vaccinated individuals came down with the flu than those who did not receive the vaccination.

“This is the first time anyone’s tested if you can boost somebody’s T-cell response to flu and, having done that, if it helps protect against getting flu. It’s the first time anybody’s done that in people,” Gilbert said, adding that she and her colleagues got “an indication that the vaccine was protecting people” because those who received the it had more activated T-cells.

The vaccine trial “showed that it was safe; and giving people flu virus in the presence of lots of T-cells induced by the vaccine was absolutely fine,” Gilbert told Jha.

“What we’ll probably do is take the existing flu vaccine and mix in the new virus-vector vaccine, so you get both good antibodies and good T-cells,” she added. “As well as giving you the antibodies for this season’s strain of flu, we’ll give you some T-cells that will cover this season, next year, next year and thereafter. It may not be 100% effective against all strains, but at least if there were a pandemic coming around, it would cover you for any strain.”

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